The Top 10 Unfairly Maligned Athletes

No 10: Wayne Rooney

A wonderfully skilled player who is in the final throes of a great career at Manchester United, Rooney is punished by irrational newspaper editors and even more irrational fans for what amounts to not being superman. For not (quite) living up to his considerable promise. And mostly for not bringing a World Cup back to England. No single player could have accomplished that. Appreciate him for who he is.


No 9: John Calipari

While certainly full of shit in a used car salesman sort of way, Calipari doesn’t deserve a tenth of the grief he gets. He is an innovator in recruiting (one-and-done) and Xs and Os (dribble drive) and has consistently been an advocate for players. Does that include bags of cash? Probably, but who says that is a bad thing? The players deserve to get paid. Coach K is now all-in with one-and-done players. Cal just got there first.


No 8: Bill Buckner

The mistake was inexcusable, BUT

1: The score was tied at the time, the Red Sox weren’t leading
2: It was Game 6, not 7
3: He had 102 RBI that year and finished his career with 2700+ hits


No 7: Rodney Harrison

Was he a dirty player? Certainly by today’s standards, and occasionally by the previous era’s standards as well. But for it to be the first thing people think of when they hear his name is downright unfair. His toughness, leadership, and freakish skill is what people should remember. He won’t make the Hall of Fame, but he deserves it. A widely respected player who could hit like a linebacker and cover like a cornerback, he led the Patriots to back-to-back Super Bowls after fleeing San Diego. Make no mistake about it: the Patriots weren’t winning both, or maybe even either, if Rodney Harrison isn’t on that team. He made that much difference. He was the first NFL player in history with 30 sacks and 30 interceptions. Remember him as a great player who occasionally went overboard, not a dirty player who happened to be pretty damn good.

No 6: Randy Moss

For some reason Randy Moss is constantly lumped in with Terrell Owens as “great receivers who were also big distractions.” They were certainly both great players, but Moss wasn’t 1/10th of the distraction that TO was. His mortal sin in many people’s eyes was his comment that “I play when I want to play.” He was essentially acknowledging that he didn’t go hard every play. Well guess what? Most football players don’t go hard every play. You cannot physically have the stamina to run by multiple defenders on out routes 5-10 times per game if you are killing yourself to block or be a decoy on every running play or screen pass to the other side of the field. Moss was simply being honest about it.


No 5: Kermit Washington

He threw the punch that almost killed Rudy Tomjanovich and wound up becoming infamous because of it. Was the punch brutal? Tomjanovich could taste his own spinal fluid, so that’s a yes. However, there are three points that have generally been lost to the dustbin of history: He didn’t mean to hit Rudy that hard (it was more of a random punch that freakishly landed perfectly), fighting and thrown punches were WAY more common in the NBA back in 1977, and Washington has a multi-decade track record as a good teammate and a kind person that doesn’t deserve to be completely overshadowed.


No 4: Greg Hardy



The Real No 4: Colin Kaepernick


I’m sure some folks (certainly the gentleman above) wish we were kidding on this one too, but sorry, you’re out of luck. Blame him for regressing as a QB or being inaccurate or failing to punch the ball into the end zone during the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl if you want, but DON’T blame him for exercising his right to protest in a peaceful, respectful way that broke precisely zero NFL rules. Imagine the blowback he would have gotten if he did something that was actually disruptive. Even the criticism he received for not voting is misplaced. Kaepernick is an extremely busy person who probably spends every day at the team facility, and if he felt that no candidate on the ballot would fundamentally alter the underlying racism he was protesting in the first place, then it was perfectly within his rights not to cast a vote.


No 3: LeBron James

Let’s list his transgressions: Announces his move to Miami in an egocentric TV special that nonetheless raised $3 million for the Boys and Girls Club, gets carried away after said move during a pep rally with his teammates and fans and predicts “Not 5, Not 6, Not 7” titles in Miami, and often comes across as disingenuous and cocky during press conferences. That is IT.

Compare that to being a fully matured man at age 18 despite limited parenting and a tough upbringing, not folding under the immense spotlight shone on him, never being arrested, being a model father, empowering his friends rather than enabling them, winning three titles and four MVPs, setting an example for all the other young stars entering the league that being a responsible adult who is educated about business and politics is “cool,” and most important of all, founding and continuing to run and fund a charity in his home city of Akron that takes at-risk third graders and supports them (financially, emotionally, and structurally) all the way through college.

Yeah, pretty safe to say that most of the criticism of him is wildly overboard.


No 2: Ricky Williams

Ricky Williams was set up to disappoint from the beginning of his NFL career when Mike Ditka traded the Saints entire draft for him. When he didn’t immediately lead the league in rushing and struggled with injuries he was labeled a disappointment. When he dealt with the pain of playing the most punishing position in sports by smoking weed instead of ingesting opiates, the league suspended him and the fans mocked him. And when he could no longer take that pain and retired out of the blue before the 2004 season, Dolphins fans burned his jersey in the streets. The guy who rushed the ball 30 times per game and led the league in rushing is selfish because he needs a break. Ok, gotcha. Good to know.

Williams later returned to the Dolphins and regained some of the money and respect that he lost along the way, but he was never a natural fit in a league that remains suspicious of any sort of outside-the-box thinking. He is currently back at Texas finishing a degree in psychology and continuing to be the interesting, kind, accomplished person that he always has been.


No 1: Tommie Smith and John Carlos


These two are so far-and-away #1 that they should have their own list. The two sprinters decided to take a stand against vicious racism in the US by raising their fists in a black power salute during the singing of the Star Spangled Banner at the ’68 Mexico City Games and in return they were thrown out of the Olympic village and ostracized for decades. If you aren’t familiar with their story, do yourself a favor and remedy that immediately.

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